About eight years ago, some of my cousins from the UK came to Ghana for the first time. I met them at a get together in one of my aunty’s house and struck up a conversation with one them. As we conversed, she revealed her surprise at my aunty’s house because her perception of Africa had been shaped by negative images portrayed in the news and Western media. She saw scrawny children with protruding bellies and bulging eyes, mud houses and other signs of a poverty-stricken continent. Surprisingly, my aunty’s house is a modest and cosy abode but certainly not an edifice which would cause people to marvel.
My cousin is only one of the thousands, if not millions, of people who listen to a single story and form stereotypes concerning a place or group of people. Stories told by others (persons not part of a particular group) may be riddled with typecasts, half-truths, prejudices, biases, falsehoods and other forms of distortion. As a result, this can cause anger, frustration, and hostility among the group of people whose story is being told.
Let us make one thing clear: Stories are powerful. Stories can inspire people, influence behaviours, invoke empathy, shape thought processes, provoke change, create identities, start needful conversations, and combat stereotypes. Therefore, it is pertinent for stories to be narrated, but the questions which arise are: Who should tell these stories? What makes a person qualified to tell a story? How should a story be told? What is the purpose of telling a story?
I believe the most suitable person to tell a story should be the person who the story revolves around. I mean, it is only fair that we give priority to a person who has the first-hand experience of the story being told. After all, it is their story, and without them, there would have been no tale to tell. I believe people should be empowered enough to articulate their own stories, no matter how horrific it may be.
That being said, it is critical to point out that the voices of some people help to amplify that of others. Some people have certain platforms or sphere of influence, which makes the words they utter cause a significant change. In that case, it is imperative that such people lend their voices to telling the stories of the marginalized, vulnerable, and the oppressed. They need to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. However, caution needs to be taken to ensure that the stories told by such people are accurate. Moreover, when people become the mouthpiece of others, they should be careful not to steal the ‘spotlight’ from the originators of the story. They should remember, this is NOT their story; they are merely the narrators.
Honestly, I am glad that we are living in the digital age. This means that now more people have ways to air out their opinions and tell their stories. Social media is a contributing factor to giving people a voice, a creative one at that. Now, stories are told through the pictures posted, an expressive dance, a podcast, a YouTube channel, a painting or even in the application of make-up. Creativity and storytelling go hand-in-hand, and there are no limits in this area. The key here is to not allow your narrative to be stolen or manipulated but instead, to be in full control of how it is told.
Who has the right to tell your story? You do. Why? Because you matter. Your story matters. Your voice matters. Don’t ever stop telling your story because it is the yarn which weaves the cloth of your life. Tell your story to your children and grandchildren and let them pass it down to their children until all your generations have heard your story. Stories are powerful so tell yours.